Just more than two months after Allan Holland found out he would receive a mortgage-free house in Port Royal, the retired, wounded U.S. Army sergeant and his family returned Thursday to see their completed home for the first time.
And what they saw Thursday in Shadow Moss stunned them.
Holland and his family entered their new four-bedroom home to find it ready to live in, with new appliances, televisions and even a dog bed for their golden retriever, Daisy.
"An empty house still would have been fantastic," said Holland, who expected to be sleeping on a cot Thursday night. "It's decorated beyond my wildest dreams of what I thought it would look like. God is good. He's taking care of my family."
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Holland, who was seriously injured in combat in Afghanistan in 2012, found out Sept. 10 he would receive a mortgage-free home in Shadow Moss courtesy of Pulte Group, the neighborhood's developer. Construction took only 59 days, thanks to an army of area contractors who pitched in, construction manager Dow Drury said.
Holland had seen the home just once, during a "Notes of Love" ceremony in mid-October. On that day, contractors and well-wishers wrote notes on the studs and frame of the home -- messages now hidden behind the walls. Photos of some of those messages were displayed around the home Thursday, including a long passage written on the stairs welcoming the family to the Lowcountry.
About 100 people attended Thursday's ceremony. Many were Pulte employees, contractors who worked on the home, and neighbors.
Beaufort native and "American Idol" winner Candice Glover performed the national anthem and "America the Beautiful." State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, presented Holland with a flag flown over the Statehouse and welcomed his family to the Lowcountry.
"Today, we embrace you as one of us," Davis said.
The Hollands will move to Port Royal from Lexington, where they have lived since Holland left a Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky., earlier this year.
Holland and his family -- wife Karen and son Ryan, 16 -- were joined by Operation Finally Home founder Dan Wallrath, whose nonprofit organization puts wounded and disabled veterans in new homes. Wallrath's group connected the Hollands to Pulte Group.
"It's incredible to see the love and dedication put into these homes," he said. "Sgt. Holland epitomizes the heroes that serve the nation. This house can never repay him for what he has done, but it's a start."
Drury said he was mobbed by offers to help construct and furnish the home, including some contractors who don't do regular business for the company. Other groups, like the Sun City Veterans and the Sun City Community Association, helped raise money for the project. Another Pulte Group community, the Haven, donated a new grill after learning Holland loves to cook.
The house has three, first-floor bedrooms -- one of them for son Austin Marshall who is stationed in Louisiana with the U.S. Army. Another spare bedroom is for Holland's father, who eventually plans to move in with the family. The bathroom off the master bedroom is designed to be easily accessible for Holland, who uses a walker.
In the garage, a lone shovel hung from a rack for garden tools. The shovel was used in the Sept. 10 groundbreaking ceremony and has been signed by Pulte Group employees involved in the home's construction.
"This is so much more than I ever could have expected," Holland said.
A "quiet room" off the master bedroom is painted a darker shade than the rest of the home and is soundproofed. It offers a retreat for Holland when he suffers a migraine headache or when he studies for the doctorate degree he is pursuing through Grand Canyon University.
Holland said he would spend the next few days in that room writing thank-you notes to those who made the new home possible.
The family plans on spending Thanksgiving in the home and will move in completely before Christmas, after Ryan finishes his first semester in school.
"We haven't had a home in a long time," Holland said. "It will be like our first Christmas again."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
- Wounded Army veteran surprised with free home in Port Royal, Sept. 10, 2014